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The Invisible Infrastructure

The question of digital demise can only be discussed among one third of the world. Two thirds of the world has yet to even have access to the Internet. What does digital legacy mean to those who are not connected? Will this widen the gap between the privileged and the not privileged, the connected and the disconnected? Historically, people have tried to leave their legacy behind. Whether it is a marble statue displaying one’s political prowess or a burial of a body, it is clear that people long to be remembered. With features such as Facebook Legacy allowing inheritance of digital data, question of inequality extends beyond our present lives to posthumous lives. Will those who have access to the Internet and Facebook continue to leave more and more of their “trace” behind whereas those who do not have access disappear from memory, albeit history? Can those who have control over data curate stored data to discriminate against those who do not have data or otherwise a proof of an event, activity, or a person? In an era of information, our existences are, to a certain degree, proven by the accumulation of our data and activity online. Now, it is not those who are vocal that their voices are heard, but those who have more access and control over data that are followed and remembered.

The issue of Facebook Legacy feature reaches far beyond who remains virtually existent and who does not. It raises questions of division of power in the infrastructural level. As Benjamin Barber said, “Will information technology nourish or undermine our democratic institutions?”[1] If digital inheritance is only limited to those in the developing countries that have access to Facebook, information technology surely will be undermining our democratic institutions. Before solving the Facebook Legacy issue, there first needs to be a more universal access to connectivity. Currently, Facebook’s massive infrastructure with five data centers around the world supports 5 billion users. The number is substantial but Facebook still has a long way to go until it truly breaks down barriers in “developing countries to make Internet access available to everyone everywhere.”[2] Internet.org is a “Facebook-led initiative bringing together technology leaders, nonprofits and local communities to connect the two thirds of the world that doesn’t have Internet access.”[3] Major tech and communications companies such as Ericsson, Media tek, Nokia, Samsung, and Qualcomm are participating in this initiative to develop a “free portal of hand-picked internet services that can be accessed for free by users on mobile devices.”[4] Facebook argues that it is providing Internet services to people who cannot connect because of financial or other reasons. They do this by developing technology that decreases the cost of delivering data to people worldwide, especially in under-served communities, invest in tools and software to improve data compressions to run more efficient data networks, and to grow business models among developers, mobile operators, and device manufacturers. 

Despite Facebook’s seemingly philanthropic motivation, many argue that Facebook is actually “creating a separate Internet and by hand selecting Internet.org partners, discriminating against companies that are not on the list.”[5] After landing in India in February and now launching in Indonesia, a country with a 250 million population, Facebook is expanding quickly to help people become more connected around the world. But the question about privacy and net neutrality resurfaces as people challenge Facebook’s underlying intentions. According to Sir Tim Berners Lee, the man who created the Internet itself, argued that “’positive discrimination’ is a major problem because of the power it affords ISPs and operators.” Companies like Facebook becomes gatekeepers-“able to handpick winners and losers in the market and to favour their own sites, services, and platforms over those of others” leading to “snuff out innovative new services before they even see the light of day.”[6] Will Facebook’s initiative provide a more democratic eco system by granting universal Internet access or will it inhibit equal treatment of Internet traffic?

[1] Barber, Benjamin R. "Chapter 19." A Passion for Democracy: American Essays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1998. 245. Print.

[2] http://internet.org/about

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://techcrunch.com/2015/04/20/internet-dot-org-indonesia/

[5] http://techcrunch.com/2015/04/20/internet-dot-org-indonesia/

[6] http://techcrunch.com/2015/04/06/bharti-airtel-airtel-zero-india/

Jasmine OhComment